The concept of a stay-at-home dad might be alien in India but it is quite popular in the West. The roles and responsibilities are reversed wherein the father becomes the primary care giver instead of the mother. It is a given for majority of women to give up their jobs to take a break and look after their new-born, that is something the society expects but what happens if a man decides to step up, switch roles and step into the woman’s shoes?
A telecommunication engineer by training, Sid Balachandran recently swapped his decade-long professional career and is now a 30-something work-from-home dad. When not running after his three-year-old son, tripping over LEGO blocks or pulling out food from his hair, he writes about fatherhood, parenting in general, fiction and satire on his blog: www.iwrotethose.com. He is also currently working on two books, both of which he hopes to complete soon, if he gets his son’s blessings to finish writing.
Were you working before you decided to become a SAHD? How did you arrive at this decision? Do you miss your job?
My decade-long corporate avatar saw me juggle different roles, and, if I’m honest, I enjoyed them all. The switch to the role of a SAHD was not entirely automatic, so to speak. We relocated to India from London in 2013, with a view to be closer to family and so that the little one wouldn’t be too far away from his grandparents and cousins. At this juncture, I decided to take a break and look for alternate careers, and since my wife was working, we mutually agreed that I would take over the role of the primary caregiver. It was the most practical decision we could take, since both of us wanted to ensure that at least one of us was around with him, for a large part of the day. I decided to start blogging around the same time, and gradually found an alternate career in writing and now thoroughly enjoy both the SAHD and WFHD phases.
I don’t think I miss my previous jobs. What I do miss is the camaraderie the corporate world has. Both parenting and writing are awfully lonely roles and at times, you can’t help but wish that you had someone to go with for an impromptu lunch or meet for a few drinks after work.
Once the decision was made, what were your challenges? How old was your son when you decided to be a SAHD?
Our son was about 16 months when we decided. So, he was at that age where he was starting to walk, run, climb and the rest. In terms of challenges, the biggest one was trying to convince family and society that being a SAHD is not an act of rebellion. As you can imagine, SAHDs are rare and few in India and it was almost unheard of in our social circles. For a long time I had to put up with people asking me very personal questions and endure their sly taunts, but you start to develop a thick skin after a while. Nowadays, I’m rarely bothered by what society thinks.
While this concept is quite popular abroad do you think that it’s gaining popularity in India as well?
It is, but extremely slowly. I think what people need to realise is that there are a lot of factors that go into making such decisions: financial, personal, among others. So you need to be absolutely certain that come what may, and regardless of what people may say, you are entirely happy with the decision you’re making. The other drawback in India is the way our society is. People are often worried about what others may think of them, and hence, even if they do have a choice, a lot of fathers choose to continue working. Of course, the fact that society views us with suspicin doesn’t help either.
How do you deal with the negativity?
I think the reactions are mostly either amusement or confusion. Amused, because they usually think I’m joking. Confused, because when (and if) they figure out that I’m serious, and then they wonder why on earth would do something so bizarre.
In fact, I’ve even had someone ask me, “Why is the mother going to work, when she should be looking after the kid?” Yes, my response was the same as what you’re probably experiencing as you read this: one of anger.
But I’ve come to realise that being angry doesn’t really help anyone. Instead, I just resort to humour to diffuse the situation. If you’re doing something against the norms that are set by our patriarchal society, no matter whether you are male or female, you’re a rebel.
Do you ever feel intimidated by your male friends and have successful corporate careers? If yes, how do you overcome that feeling?
If I said no, I’d probably be lying. The truth is that initially I was. I’d look around – either my friends or people who’re in the same age bracket as I am and wonder how it could have been. We’re all humans after all, and it is natural to be intimidated and feel insecure. However, the longer I played the role of a SAHD, the easier it became to overcome this feeling. As I mentioned earlier, it is a trade-off; I get to spend a lot of time with my little one during his formative years – they don’t. Additionally, I also now get to have a career of my choice that doesn’t require me to be away from my family for a large part of the day or week. So, much like everything else, you just take the positives and stay motivated. Being a stay-at-home home parent isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; and not everyone has the opportunity to do it. I do and I enjoy it.
What according to you are the advantages of being a SAHD? Do you think the parenting style of a SAHD is different as against a SAHM?
You’re trying to get me into trouble, aren’t you? The advantage of being a SAHD is that I get to spend more time with my son than other dads probably can. It’s definitely a boon and I thoroughly enjoy this period. The other point of course, is that I also get ample time to spend with my wife too, since she works nearby and hence the commute is taken out of the equation.
As for the parenting styles, let me be honest. I don’t think the parenting styles depend on the gender – they depend on the person. Just like every person is different, each of our parenting styles is different. My wife and I have some similar as well as some very different outlooks on parenting – but we find a balance and try and give our son the best upbringing we can.
So yes, every parent – dad or mom – will have a different style.